State bills aim to monitor sex offenders for life

Experts say bills raise questions, aren't likely to pass as written

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new push has begun in the state Legislature to require convicted sex offenders to wear ankle monitors to track their movements for the rest of their lives

Two essentially identical bills, Senate Bill 134 and House Bill 203, aim to keep tabs on past offenders to make sure they don't slip away so it becomes impossible to track them.

But some experts said such laws would immediately be challenged in court.

Two Miami Republicans, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Frank Artiles, said the bills are designed to protect children and keep track of sex offenders who often wind up homeless.

"When a sex predator or convicted criminal with sex crimes comes out, he labels himself as transient and basically disappears in the population," Artiles said. "We in Miami-Dade County have a large population, and it's very easy to get lost."

But local attorney Gene Nichols said the bills may be unconstitutional. He also said the law doesn't distinguish who would get lifetime monitors -- even if, for example, a person committed a sex crime at a young age by having sex with an underage girlfriend.

"They could still be at 60 years old wearing this ankle monitor when they have far exceeded the time period they can be punished for this crime," Nichols said. "It's going to be how we define it. Do we define it as a punishment for the act committed or are we going to define it another way that the state monitors (them) for the rest of their lives?"

One other part of the bill that could hit a snag is that it requires sex offenders to pay for their monitors for the rest of their lives. If they don't pay, they could be convicted of another crime.

Nichols said a huge number of offenders are either homeless or struggle to make ends meet. He said this would repeatedly send them back to jail because they couldn't continue to pay for the monitors, which he said run around $11 a day.

News4Jax political analyst Jennifer Carroll said that while there are a lot of pushes to crack down on laws relating to sex offenders and predators, these bills, as written, would have a tough time passing the state Legislature.

"We're not giving an opportunity for a person to be a better citizen," Carroll said. "You have this device on you for rest of your life, you want to repent and be forgiven and have life start all over again, (and) you're not going to be able to do so."

Artiles said he understands there will be a lot of criticism of his bill, and he's prepared for that.

"This is a process and we are going to address those issues in committee -- the constitutionality and the extensiveness," Artiles said. "But for sexual predators and people who commit sex crimes on children, if they were to get released or agree to lifetime monitoring, this would facilitate that." 

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